The upscale country pub that might not have been here today

Why not drop by the Old Coach and Horses

Although it sounds like an ancient pub, the Old Coach and Horses isn’t.

The main structure was built in 1776, the same year we Brits lost a war with the colonists in America. King George III was on the throne, prior to his madness.

Called the Wagon and Horses, it was run by Flint and Kingsford Brewers from 1797 until 1847 when they split and became Flint and Co Brewers of Roper Gate, St Dunstan’s Street, Canterbury.

From 1909 until the late 1960s it was a busy locals’ pub. In the 1970s it was still on the very busy main London Road, but with no with no place to stop its trade went into steep decline.

The locals were also not using it as much and it was not really covering its costs.

The Old Coach and Horses in the past

Whitbread chose to close it as a as a pub and became a private house in 1973, and was still closed in 1978 when I came to live in the village at the age of 13.

The Harbledown bypass opened in August 1978 soon after we moved in and the village became a backwater, also meaning that the few cars that did come down missed the pub, too.

In 1981 the owners of the then private house, second hand car dealers from Wickford in Essex, converted it back into a pub of sorts.But it was very run-down.

The smaller building at that time was still a private living room – currently the main bar – and there were no toilets in the pub, only in the private area, meaning it was not really a pub as it is now.

This closed for business in mid-1984 and reopened two years later in 1986 when a British Airways pilot called Nick and his air stewardess girlfriend Caroline opened it as the Old Coach and Horses.

This did not last very long and they sold it to Val and Mark Robinson. The former environmental health inspector and his wife accountant wife opened it as a pub with food.

The view over Harbledown

The speciality of the house was a huge chicken curry and rice or an open topped toasted sandwich called The Traveller.

It was a Shepheard Neame pub serving Steinbock and Hurliman’s lager popular with a lively local trade, myself included.

The top bar was carpeted with a thick red carpet, which was sticky under foot.

In the lower bar was a fruit machine and a pool table, which was vary rarely used, and a dartboard.

The bar was always full of smoke and cigars were the order of the day. The landlord loved his cats which took their places on the bar.

They stayed until 2001 when it was taken over by the Legge family, the late Dave Lee’s family. His sons Justin and Darren ran it while Charlotte Whigham, daughter of Robert from the Red Lion at Stodmarsh, worked in the bar.

There was for a time a fear that the pub would be closed permanently and be converted into domestic accommodation or even turned into a curry house, but a new owner took it on and put Charlotte in charge.

Today Anita Turner is the tenant. She also runs the Kentish Cricketers, in St Peter’s Street, and most recently took on the Queen’s Head in Boughton-Under-Blean.

If you have never been to Harbledown, do come and take a walk around our sweet little village steeped in history.

And trust me there’s no better place to stop in for a well earned pint after your walk than the Old Coach and Horses – for it remains a country pub with a friendly feel, full of excellent food and well kept beers.


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